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On the journey to America, working in the White House and etiquette.

Fast confession - Eliška Hašková Coolidge: A Czech woman serving US presidents

Tereza Janatová
22.Aug 2018
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6 minutes

Perhaps for the first time in my life I wondered what to wear. Yes, it's true! When you're scheduled to meet the lady who is considered walking elegance, you suddenly lose confidence. After I told myself about a hundred times that I have nothing to wear, I finally chose a black simple dress. And it turned out to be the right choice. If, dear women, you are in doubt, go for black simplicity. This will never be a wrong move. But etiquette has other pitfalls. And if you think dressing up is the biggest problem, you are mistaken!

It was the year 1950, and you had traveled as an eight-year-old to the US to see your father. Do you remember these times? What comes to mind along with this memory?

The only thing I thought about before we crossed the border was the fact that I would see Daddy. As for the journey as such, I was afraid. We went by foot, at night, past the cemetery. I remember dark shadows. I was really afraid. Even several years later, I still drew pictures of how we crossed the border. How it looked. Apparently, it was my way of dealing with everything. I even remember how I lost a doll when we were hiding in a hayloft. The only doll I could take with me. Before my dad came to get me, I spent more than six months in France. And after I finally got to America, I was relieved, and the fear subsided. You know, today people are constantly talking about refugees. And I actually experienced that situation when you are trying to get to another country, too. I knew what it was like to be without both parents. However, I am convinced that it can be done if you have love and understanding from your parents during childhood. And not just parents. For example, my grandmother was the one who congratulated me on my school reports. She then took me for ice cream or hot chocolate. And she always stayed positive. And that's what's missing here today. A lot went wrong during the 40 years of Communism. I think the desperation that must have existed here has had a negative effect on today's children. Today's generation sees everything very negatively. It was not so during my childhood and youth.

Before you started working for the White House, what did you do?

I studied. And very meticulously. That was the only thing I could do. My dad said it clearly to me: "Eliška, you are an immigrant and you must know that what you have in your heart, which I hope your family has given you, and what you put into your head by studying are the only two things no one can take from you." And that's how I raised my daughter. Life is not easy and it helps a lot to have the faith I fortunately had. And not only faith in oneself, but also the principles of faith are important. To be able to admit a mistake or forgive someone. These are not weaknesses, they are strengths.

Prodej rodinného domu, Praha 9 - 123m
Prodej rodinného domu, Praha 9 - 123m, Praha 9

Do you remember the day you first entered the White House?

I remember it very well. It was by mistake. I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And at the interview, the gentleman who was there told me that he would love to accept me, but that there is a law that says that a person must be a US citizen for ten years to become a member of the American service. So he did not recommend it because I would not achieve what I was able to at that time. At the same time, he told me he had a friend in the White House who was looking for an assistant. He told me he'd put me in a car and send me there immediately. And that's how I got into the White House. By car and even from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And that afternoon I was accepted.

How did you perceive this success? Was it a sensation for you?

At that time it meant I had a job, so that was good (laughs). From what I can remember, I was not particularly impressed at the time.

And what exactly did your work consist of? What were you in charge of?

At the beginning I wrote letters. I responded to those that were received. Then, in a few months, John F. Kennedy, with whom I started, was assassinated. Lyndon B. Johnson stepped in and I was asked to stay, but my boss was dismissed. Johnson then wanted me to set up the presidential administration office. That's what I did, and I was the director for over 18 years. I always had to give up my office when a new president arrived, but then I went back. It was so until Ronald Reagan became president. He had someone for a similar position to mine. So I was asked to leave. But on that day, before I left, I received a message from Vice President George Bush stating that he had requested to find me a position in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which I had originally wanted and he knew that very well. I must say I never had to look for a job. It always came along by itself. The change came when I arrived in Prague, and George Bush helped me again. That was in 1999. Bush arrived in Prague to receive a medal from Charles University, a doctorate. I was invited to this ceremony and I was sitting pretty far back at the end of the row. And when it was all in full swing, George Bush noticed me. He stopped the whole procession and asked me loudly: "Eliška, what are you doing here?" (Laughs). So then we talked and I told him I was looking for a job here. Two days later I received two letters from him. In the first he wrote that he wished me good luck and hoped it would help. The second letter was a recommendation. When I think about it now, I was very lucky regarding work. At that time, of course, I didn't realize it, of course, but when I look back on it today, I see it differently.

Nowadays you are also devoted to etiquette. What sparked your interest in this topic?

I think it is the only thing holding us back here in the Czech Republic. I think it was a little neglected here. And not only here, but also in the rest of the world. The level has fallen, just as morality has fallen all over the world. That's why I set up courses for young children. When you talk to a child about the importance of behavior and considering the impact of our words and actions on others, you are sure to win.

When it comes to etiquette, what are the most common mistakes made by Czechs?

One thing we definitely have to improve is the way we hold cutlery and behavior at the table. And that will not be solved by looking at your mobile when you eat. I even have one lady who came to me and then went to Australia to apply for a job in a bank. The interview was unsuccessful. However, she was then invited to a dinner she attended, and the next day they wrote her that she had been accepted because she used the dinnerware correctly during dinner. And if she can do this, she will surely know how to do other things also. Etiquette really works. I recently watched CNN showing that many men in America did not get their dream job because they came in inappropriately dressed. They wore a dark blue suit and light brown boots. And you can't do that. Shoes must be black. This is a long-standing rule. You know, it's not just ignorance, but also the fact that designers come up with a bomb every now and then, and young men think they can just wear it and that's it. The other thing is that they need to draw attention to themselves with those light brown boots that punch you in the eye.

Is this a problem of men or women, in your opinion?

I think women tend to go more "overboard". They put on one more piece and it's wrong. Simplicity is enough. If you are not sure, you can wear a black dress anywhere. And it's not about the woman being dressed like a nun. You know, people who have done much more than I have come to see me. They gave this world more than I did. But they lack packaging. And I try to pass that on to them. Give them knowledge they do not have. And it seems to me that it's a little more important than in men. The wife directs her husband. We are more tolerant towards men. A woman must be much more sensitive to these things than a man.

I have a feeling that we women just don't get away with as much...

Yes, it is so (laughs).

So can a woman can invite a man on a date?

Yes, of course.

What should such an invitation from a woman look like?

First of all, find something that would be pleasant for him. Some activity they can do together. Or even better, organize a party and invite him for a glass of wine.

Don't you think that there are more and more successful men who cannot tolerate a successful woman at their side?

Yes, it's true. And it is a great shame. Again, it's up to the woman to help him. And she has to work on it much more than the man. I will give you an example. At the time Nixon was president, I did a lot of tasks, and when it didn't feel right, I stepped in. At that time, I had someone there, a man I turned to and asked him to “present” my opinion, my point of view. And it worked. Nixon then accepted it.

What do you think is the biggest mistake of our time, today's society?

Definitely social networks. When I think about it, it is a lot about ego and it hurts us. And it's a big waste of time. Personally, I confess that I highly neglect them. I only have a Facebook profile for work. I'm a little scared of it. On the one hand I am protecting my privacy, and on the other I have no time for it.

Fast confession:

If you could choose, would you live in Germany or France?

Neither one nor the other...

What property is missing in today's men?


Do you tolerate late arrivals?

It depends on when and how.

Are you for the introduction of the euro?

Not yet.

Which US President was the greatest gentleman for you?

I do not like this question because being a gentleman is not the main quality of a president. I think they were all gentlemen in their own way.

What is the biggest problem of Czech society?

Envy and lack of trust.

Do you regularly undergo any beauty procedures? If so, what?


What is the difference between Czech and American women?

This is very individual. I cannot answer that. I think it depends on every woman.

Do you ever turn your head to look at an attractive woman?

I don't know if I turn, but I'll notice her.

What is the greatest wealth for you?


Do you shop during sales?


Can you forgive a white lie?

I can if the person apologizes.

Is it permissible to invite a man on a date?

Yes, of course.

What comes to mind when you hear the word luxury?

Good taste.
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